Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
Updated: Sep 2, 2019
Chan Gin Kai
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:26-28)
Like the many heroes in the Bible you admire, God has chosen you to play a special part in his Kingdom. But do you feel special?
The angel Gabriel had appeared to Zechariah to tell him that his wife would bear a special son (Luke 1:11-20), and after that appeared to Mary to tell her that she would bear THE Son. But the similarity stops there.
Zechariah was a well-educated priest, selected at that time to perform a holy ritual in the holy place of the holy temple, in the holy city, Jerusalem. Contrary to Zechariah, Mary was an ordinary young woman from Nazareth, a small and rough village with a bad reputation.
Zechariah should have received Gabriel’s announcement with great joy and gratitude as he and his wife have longed for a child for many years, and prayed hard for it. But he reacted with doubt. Contrary to Zechariah, Mary had not even hoped for a child yet and Gabriel’s news to her was a shock and bittersweet. She must have felt incredibly honoured to be told that she would be the mother of the Messiah. But it was incredibly scary too, as she was a virgin and could be accused of adultery. It could break her betrothal, shame her family, and even get her stoned. But Mary’s submission to the will of God despite the risks to her was admirable, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)
Zechariah reacted with scepticism and asked Gabriel for a sign because he felt he was too old to have a child. It would have required an even greater miracle for Mary, a virgin, to conceive. She too asked a question, but contrary to Zechariah, she asked because she wondered how it would happen. There is a difference between questioning in scepticism and asking to learn more. Scepticism is laced with doubt, and often springs from a prideful ‘but I know better’ mindset. A desire to find out more comes from curiosity or humility (or a combination of both), and both are great attributes to have.
Mary was special. Like the heroes, prophets and Apostles in the Bible, she had a special calling to play a part in God’s plan for humanity’s salvation. But they were special not because they were born different, or less human, or more divine. They were special because God chose them as instruments, and they humbly submitted to God’s will.
God’s plans are seldom easy: Moses faced the might of the greatest empire, David faced a giant, Daniel faced lions, the Apostles faced persecution and Mary faced the shame and dangers of a virgin birth. It wasn’t David’s invincible slinging prowess, or Daniel’s lion-whispering skills, or Mary’s special womb that made the difference. It was God. It was exactly what Gabriel had explained to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). It was how God worked through all the other heroes in the Bible too. “The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David” (1 Samuel 16:13), and we know all the incredible exploits he had for the next few decades. “The Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon him (Samson) so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands” (Judges 14:6).
Contrary to the veneration of Mary or the Apostles or the Saints, the Bible teaches us to worship God alone. They were ordinary people made special by God through the Spirit. Like all of us, these heroes were blemished and flawed human beings with their fair share of frailties and fears. But their faith in God’s plans, and obedience to Him deserve our admiration; they’re incredible role models for us to imitate.
Contrary to how you may feel, every Christian is special. Yes, you belong to the same tribe as all these heroes you respect. Like them, you are special because God has chosen you to play a part in His Kingdom; “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). We too have the Spirit, a gift we received when we were baptised (Acts 2:38). As Christians, we are all sanctified and we are all called ‘saints’ (1 Corinthians 1:2, ESV).
You may not feel like Mary or Moses, David or Daniel. You may not even feel special or saintly or super. None of them felt that way about themselves when they were called. But they obeyed. Let us respond to God’s calling. Let us surrender to His will, and we will have the opportunity to see God work His miracles, through us as His instruments.
You are not called because you are special; you are special because you are called.
Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. In church, he serves as a mentor to young professionals in the EDGE Ministry. He describes himself as "just a sinner who wants to get right with God".